Charleston’s Tent City down to just a few residents who will all be gone by Friday

Charleston police Sgt. Jonathan Lane watches over the evacuation of some of the last residents of the so-called Tent City on Thursday.

What was once a sprawling homeless encampment of more than 100 tents at the entrance to Charleston’s tourist district was down to a dozen mostly abandoned sites Thursday morning.

Nine tents at the so-called Tent City near the Interstate 26 ramp on Upper Meeting Street would be trashed by the end of the day. A city sanitation crew was scheduled to arrive in the afternoon to dispose of the tents and anything else left behind.

Three other tents on the other side of the ramp would be disposed of Friday. Then the state Department of Transportation will send in a crew to mow down the weeds, and there will be no more sign of Tent City.

A man and a woman who calls herself Arizona were the only residents around the encampment late Thursday morning. They were packing up in the section that will be cleared out Friday. Neither wanted to talk to a reporter.

Charleston Deputy Police Chief Tony Elder was talking to Arizona. He had brought her some garbage bags to put her stuff in. He said she planned to move into her own apartment.

Several other Charleston police officers were there Thursday in case anybody showed up needing a place to stay. Buses would take them to a temporary shelter by the Charleston County jail if they wanted help.

The encampment started with just a few tents on either side of Meeting Street, then swelled as generous individuals and organizations started bringing in clothes and food.

Eventually some of the residents started fighting with each other, a few threatened visitors, and some had to be arrested.

It became apparent that Tent City was no oasis, and more permanent solutions for those who had set up tents there had to be found. In early February, the city announced that the encampment would be disbanded within 60 days.

The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office is allowing the police department to use a former work camp by the jail to house up to 48 women and 48 men from Tent City for 60 days. Representatives of several agencies have been working with them to find permanent housing, jobs and mental-health counseling if needed.

Only former Tent City residents can stay there, under terms of the $1 lease agreement. Some other homeless people have showed up but had to be referred elsewhere, Elder said.

A resident who is slightly intoxicated can still stay there as long as he or she doesn’t cause trouble or present a medical issue, Elder said. That’s a different approach than One80 Place, the city’s homeless shelter not far from Tent City, which doesn’t allow intoxicated people to stay there.

Officers have been visiting Tent City daily for weeks telling residents that the encampment would be cleared out and helping them find other places to live or get help.

“They have generally been very cooperative,” Elder said. “This is not just about Tent City, it’s about how we can help people.”

Reach Dave Munday at 843-937-5553.